The New York Jets are holding on to the slimmest of playoff hopes thanks to last week’s victory over the St. Louis Rams and the general mediocrity of the AFC. An upset over the New England Patriots this Thursday night could set the table for a late season playoff run, aided by an alarmingly weak schedule the rest of the way. The Jets don’t play a team with a better current record than 4-6 after this week’s game. Late season games against New England have marked the pivot points of every Rex Ryan led Jets season so far and this year appears no different. Hopefully, the Jets will be able to reverse their recent trend of disastrous performances in these pivot games.
In 2009, the team bottomed out at 4-6 after getting blown out 31-14 in New England thanks mostly to a four interception performance from Mark Sanchez. Ryan responded by benching Kerry Rhodes on defense and drastically scaling back the Jets offense and going even more run heavy than before (remember the color coded wristband?). The Jets won 5 of their next 6 and snuck into the playoffs to make an improbable run to the AFC Championship Game.
In 2010, it was the Monday Night Massacre which ended a four game Jets winning streak with a 45-3 loss. Another three interceptions from Sanchez and another loss to rally around, which the Jets didn’t truly do until they shocked the Patriots in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.
Last year, the 5-3 Jets were coming off an impressive road win in Buffalo and appeared ready to overtake New England for the AFC East lead. What happened? 37-16 New England at MetLife with 2 interceptions from Sanchez. They lost the following week in Denver before going 3-3 down the stretch to miss the playoffs.
The Jets have no margin for error this Thursday. There is no time to rally around another New England blowout loss and Sanchez stink bomb. Simply put, a win makes the Jets very relavant in December. A loss means they are basically playing out the string. They are catching New England without Rob Gronkowski and Chandler Jones, along with a banged up Aaron Hernandez. Yes, the Patriots are still a much better all-around team but the Jets out-played them a month ago and still found a way to lose a heart-breaker in overtime. They should be confident.
Take away the kick return touchdown. Take away the safety. Don’t get gun-shy conservative on defense in a big spot and keep a balanced, yet creative approach on offense. This game will be competitive in the fourth quarter and who knows what could happen then.
The Jets defense played a strong game up until New England’s final two drives in the previous meeting. Rex Ryan is smart enough not to come with the same scheme at Brady twice in one season. Look for Antonio Cromartie to work between Brandon Lloyd and Aaron Hernandez (if he plays), while bracketing Wes Welker in the slot. New England’s running game is more potent than in previous years but you’d rather force the Patriots to put together 12-13 play drives to score points. You can’t let them rip off 25 yards a play in the passing game. Muhammad Wilkerson needs to continue his recent hot streak and generate pressure upfront along with Quinton Coples. The Jets don’t really have the horses to blitz Brady because of their lack of talent at linebacker and if you don’t get to Brady when you blitz, he kills you.
On offense, the Jets got a good push in the running game earlier in the season against New England’s front seven. It will be important to stick with the committee approach, alternating between Shonn Greene, Bilal Powell and Joe McKnight to keep a fresh back. Powell and McKnight also need to be used to make an impact in the short passing game.
When it comes to throwing the ball, Mark Sanchez needs to protect the football above everything. New England is a bad defense but an opportunistic defense. If you don’t let them take the ball away, the Patriots aren’t pulling away in this one. There is going to be chances for big plays down the field, particularly from Jeremy Kerley and Dustin Keller out of the slot. The two combined for 213 receiving yards back in October.
We mentioned a “creative” offense a few paragraphs ago. The Jets still lack overall talent on offense and shouldn’t be hesitant to empty the playbook out a little bit on Thursday. A well-timed reverse or flea-flicker could steal points for an offense that desperately needs any they could get.
This game is a referendum on both Rex Ryan and Mark Sanchez. Can Sanchez protect the football and play well enough to give his team a chance to win, in a game that could propel a late season run that might save his job? Can Rex put together a game plan to steal a victory from a team with vastly superior talent? Any questions about Ryan’s head coaching future here will go radio silent with a national television victory over the Patriots with the current group of players he is working with.